Juana Valdes: The Colored Bone China

Above: Juana Valdes, Black Sapphire Colored Bone China Rag, 2017. Porcelain bone china fired 1234c, 24 x 16 x 8 inches.



The Herter Art Gallery at the University of Massachusetts is pleased to present The Colored Bone China, an exhibition of new work by faculty member, Juana Valdes. A professor in the Department of Art, Valdes uses printmaking, photography, sculpture, ceramics, and site-specific installations, to explore issues of race, transnationalism, gender, labor, and class. Functioning as an archive, Valdes’s work analyzes and decodes experiences of migration as a person of Afro Caribbean heritage. It evokes migration as a complex process that involves both the homespace of the diasporic community as well as their new homeland. With this nuanced approach, she examines the post-colonial history of the Americas and the current representation of Latinos, Carribeans, Blacks, and what constitutes as “the other” in mainstream America.

In the exhibition The Colored Bone China, Valdes collects, arranges, and transforms mass-produced ceramic objects to explore her personal experiences as an Afro-Cuban American–Latinx artist. By investigating the history and origin of these objects, Valdes maps the complex terrain of multiple cultures and nations that constitute her own identity, and how it is constantly shaped and reshaped by experiences of displacement and transculturation. The resulting discourse is both political and poetic.

In these installations, the cultural product is displaced from its place and time of origin, both in terms of ethnicity and labor. Through a series of physical, material, and conceptual operations, domestic wares are stripped of their passive functions, transforming ornaments into vehicles of aesthetic value. Their design and decorative patterns serve as indexical references to the social class that both collect them as well as dictate their production and distribution.

In the work The Colored China Rags, Valdes disturbs the glossy white ceramic of bone china by injecting pigment into clay, thereby altering its chemical composition and becoming an actor in the transmutation of the material’s DNA. Color thus becomes race in this series of delicately crafted ceramic rags, ranging from the subtler shades to brown, to more elusive black skin tones. Through their color and folds, issues of cultural memory, transculturation, and hybridization resurface, and along with them, historically skewed relationships become apparent.

Valdes uses bone china’s natural property as a resource on which to build and extrapolate history as a material or a prefabricated resource. Whether purchased in real estate sales, auctions, or antique shops, these objects symptomize the ever-shifting cultural and economic values that are assigned by one race, gender, and/or class to another. Subsequently arranged, intervened, and/or photographed, Valdes’s pieces question scales of currency in the global socio-economic landscape, presenting the myth of post-racial America as an increasingly far-fetched utopia.

Juana Valdes’s work is in the current traveling exhibition Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago at the Museum of Latin American Art as part of Pacific Standard Time: LALA and recently on view as part of the permanent collection at the Perez Art Museum, Miami. Her recent solo exhibitions include An Inherent View of the World, Mindy Solomon Gallery, From Island to Ocean: Caribbean and Pacific Dialogues, Rutgers University, and Remnants-What Remains at the Thomas Hunter Project Space at Hunter College, CUNY. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at international venues including Pacific Standard Time: LALA MOLAA, Site Santa Fe Siteline2016, ZONA MACO Mexico Arte Contempornáeo, Faction Art Projects, Fair.Market and SCOPE New York by Spinello Projects, UNTITLED, PRIZM art fairs, Perez Art Museum Miami, El Museo del Bario, P.S. 1 MOMA Contemporary Art Center, Museum of Contemporary Art (North Miami), CINTAS Foundation MDC MOAD, Galerie Verein Berliner Künstler (Berlin), the Mason Gross Galleries at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey), Galerie Binnen (Amsterdam) and FreeSpace (Sydney). She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from The New York Foundation for the Arts, The Netherland-American Foundation Cultural Grant, the National Association of Latinos Arts and Culture Visual Artists Grant, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts Joan Mitchell Grant.

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